Rising Sun

(Philip Kaufman, USA, 1993)


Action thrillers of the 1990s tend to come in two main types. First, there is the pure, no-nonsense sort like Cliffhanger (1993), which reduces all action to the timeless struggle of bodies in a landscape. Then there is the busy, topical thriller, keen to introduce sociological digressions and bits from as many other popular genres as possible.


Rising Sun is a reasonably fascinating example of the latter type. It has a bit of everything: a murder mystery; a buddy-cop comedy; martial arts action; a serious exploration of Japanese-American relations; and a cautionary treatise on the implications of new digital-media technology (it’s a “missing disc” tale, in the way that crime films used to be about missing ledgers or address books). Director Philip Kaufman (Henry and June, 1990) indulges his fondness for arty camera angles and dramatic ambiguities, but happily throws in a few lewd gags and knockabout stunts as well.


Rising Sun has been somewhat hysterically tagged in some quarters as a piece of racist propaganda, but it is best taken as a playful, knowing thriller in the vein of Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989). It enjoys a special kindship (intended or not) with one of Samuel Fuller’s greatest works, The Crimson Kimono (1959).


A murder takes place at the heart of Los Angeles’ “secret Japan”. This sets off an investigation that highlights every imaginable cultural difference between Eastern and Western societies. Wesley Snipes plays Web Smith, the innocent cop taken through the ensuing labyrinth by a wise, enigmatic mediator, Connor (Sean Connery in fine form). In this mainly male drama, Tatjana Patitz features as the dead-girl-on-disc, and Tia Carrere plays the kind of digital tech expert who swiftly became a staple of all cop-team TV series in the Law & Order line.


The script, adapted by Kaufman and Michael Backes from a Michael Crichton novel, is already tricky enough. But Kaufman works overtime adding layers of visual and aural interest.


It may not amount to very much by the end but, while it lasts, Rising Sun is a highly enjoyable bouillabaisse of clever aphorisms, pointed cultural references, and exciting clinches both deadly and erotic.

MORE Kaufman: Twisted, Hemingway & Gellhorn, The Right Stuff, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

© Adrian Martin April 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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